Grindhouse (UK - BD RB)
Chris checks out the long-awaited BD release of the original double feature...
Somewhere in a small Texan town a group of military types, under the command of Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis), are engaged in some shady dealings with a scientist called Abby (Naveen Andrews). Muldoon and his men are seeking a mysterious chemical referred to only as 'the shit', but when the deal goes south the chemical storage tanks are damaged and it is released into the atmosphere. At around the same time a go-go dancer by the name of 'Cherry Darling' (Rose McGowan) quits her job and ends up at the Bone Shack, a barbecue restaurant owned by JT (Jeff Fahey) and his brother, Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn). It is here that she runs into her ex-boyfriend 'El Wray' (Freddy Rodriguez), who offers to run her into town. On the way Cherry is attacked by a group of deformed creatures who make off with her leg, but when El Wray takes her to the local hospital he is arrested by the Sheriff, with whom he has some history.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Dr. William Block (Josh Brolin) and his abused anaesthesiologist wife Dakota (Marley Shelton) are treating a slew of townsfolk affected by an unknown illness. When Block discovers that his wife was going to leave him for her lesbian lover Tammy (Stacy Ferguson), he stabs her with her own anaesthetic needles and locks her in a cupboard until he can 'deal' with her. When he returns to the infected patients he finds that they have transformed into horribly disfigured, homicidal mutants with a penchant for human flesh! At around this time El Wray— having escaped police custody—arrives to save Cherry. After carving his way through the mutants, he and Cherry escape to the Bone Shack where they meet up with other survivors including Dakota, her father Earl McGraw (Michael Parks), her babysitters (the Avellan twins), JT, the Sheriff and his deputy (Tom Savini), where they must make a stand against the hoards of marauding 'sickos'.
Three friends—Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), Shanna (Jordan Ladd) and local radio disc jockey 'Jungle' Julia Lucai (Sydney Poitier)—are driving trough Austin, Texas on their way to a bar to celebrate Julia's birthday. However, unbeknownst to them, they are being followed by a mysterious man in a souped-up 1970 Chevy Nova with a skull on the hood. While drinking at the Bar Julia reveals that she made an announcement on her show earlier that day, offering a free lap dance from Arlene to the first guy to call her Butterfly, buy her a drink and recite a certain poem. As the evening wears on, we're introduced to Pam (Rose McGowan), who has been left stranded at the bar by her boyfriend. Her plight is overheard by another patron, who introduces himself as 'Stuntman Mike' (Kurt Russell) and offers to give her a ride home.
After spending some time at the bar flirting with Pam, Mike approaches the other girls and zeroes in on Arlene. Although initially frightened by Mike, he fulfils all of the necessary criteria for the lap dance and she agrees to go through with it to prove she's not 'chicken shit'. At the end of the evening Arlene leaves with Julia, Shanna and their pot dealer Lanna, while Stuntman Mike gives Pam a lift home in his 'death proof' stunt car. Shortly after leaving the bar, Mike reveals himself to be a sadistic misogynist as he takes the terrified Pam on a high speed ride before breaking hard enough to force her to smash face-on into the dashboard, killing her. Mike then sets his sights on the other girls, overtaking their car and then hurtling towards them at high speed with his lights off. A split second before impact Mike flips his lights on, but it's too late for the unfortunate girls, who are all killed in a variety of gruesome ways.
Fourteen months later, after being cleared of any wrongdoing in the girls' deaths, Mike is once again on the prowl, this time in Lebanon, Tennessee. He comes across another car full of girls—Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), and Kim (Tracie Thoms)—who all work in the movie industry. They are on their way to the airport to pick up another of their friends, stuntwoman Zoë Bell, after which they stop off for a bit to eat. In the diner Zoë manages to convince them to take a detour so that she can test drive a white 1970 Dodge Challenger (or the 'Vanishing Point car' as she calls it). The girls agree, unaware that they are being stalked by the deranged Mike who once again tries to use he 'death proof' car to lethal effect. However, these ladies are no damsels in distress, and when Mike makes his move he realises that he might just have fucked with the wrong women.
The original Grindhouse experience wasn't readily available in the UK, thanks to the decision to separate the films and show them as stand-alone features. I only managed to see Planet Terror on the big screen, so it wasn't until the first Blu-ray releases that I got to see Death Proof, minus the fake trailers. It's taken so long for this double feature to see the light of day that one of those fake trailers has actually been made into a feature-length movie! This begs the question, have they missed the boat? Well, while it was nice to finally see the whole thing as originally intended I really missed some of the additional footage from the expanded versions of the main features, and the fact that the fake trailers have been available on the Internet for years lessens the impact of having them on Blu-ray. I still think the entire experience is worth at least one viewing, but if I’m brutally honest I probably wouldn’t sit down and watch both movies back-to-back very often. Of course your mileage may vary…
Those who did manage to track Grindhouse down in the UK will no doubt rejoice in the fact that it is presented here in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 ( Planet Terror was opened up to 1.78:1 for its home release). This helps with the seamless nature of the transition between the films, but anyone who's seen the single disc version might think that the the composition looks a little cramped.
The 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer is intentionally ugly, so traditional criticism simply doesn't apply. Film artefacts are everywhere, grain is excessive, the image is blurry, jumpy and generally looks like crap, but that's the point. If this were any normal release I would have to award an astoundingly low mark, but since this is the intended look of the film and the transfer is actually very faithful to the source material, it would be most unfair of me to do so. Looking at it from a purely aesthetic point of view all of this muck is pretty hideous, but it actually assists Planet Terror in its attempt to honour the grindhouse genre. It might look like crap, but it's some of the most impressive crap I've ever seen. Despite Rodriguez's best efforts, colours are great, black levels are deep and detail is surprisingly good (although no one needs to see Danny Trejo’s face in 1080p). Unfortunately the scratch-free version of the film isn't present on this release for comparison purposes.
Tarantino's entry is a film of two halves, and nowhere is this better illustrated than the video presentation. Arriving at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC), the first half of the film is much like its counterpart Planet Terror, with innumerable film artefacts and many a visual hiccup. It's not quite in the same league as the beautiful filth of Rodriguez's film, but it is still intentionally grimy and therefore quite hard to objectively criticise (not that reviewing is entirely objective anyway).
However, about half way through, just as the film moves into its second act, the transfer suddenly switches from grindhouse to gorgeous. Gone are film artefacts and print damage—save for a few minor white specks here and there—to be replaced by a strong, detailed image with bold colours and an almost 'shiny' appearance. It's quite jarring, but ultimately an effective tool for visually separating the first act from the second. On balance I think I actually prefer the dirty opening act, because it helps sell the low-budget feel and somewhat dubious acting, but all-in-all I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the transfer, probably even slightly more so than Planet Terror.
The fake trailers are really just more of the same. Of the four Werewolf Women of the SS probably looks the ‘nicest’, but none of them are meant to look particularly pretty and they don’t.
Well here's the first major bummer. For some reason the only audio track present on this disc is a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 effort. I know the combined running time of the features and trailers is around three hours, but there are plenty of other films that clock in around that length (and more) that have at least one lossless or uncompressed audio track. The individual releases had Dolby TrueHD tracks, so this downgrade is slightly annoying. Even so the lossy audio still sounds fairly similar to the lossless tracks on the individual releases, albeit with a slight loss of fidelity and low end punch.
Like the video, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track has been carefully 'broken' so that frequent pops and glitches can be heard throughout. Although all five channels come into play the mix is somewhat biased towards the frontal array, with the surround channels occasionally used to add depth and broaden the sound field. Although effective, I would have liked a little more surround action during the frequent moments of carnage, but I guess that would have gone against the 'grindhouse' concept. The use of ambient sound during quieter scenes is very effective though, crafting some genuinely creepy moments.
Bass is relatively punchy without overpowering the other elements of the mix, but I felt that the explosions could have done with a little more 'kick'. Dialogue could also have benefited from a more prominent position in the mix at times, but everything is still audible for the most part. The score is a particular highlight; suitably sleazy and reminiscent of John Carpenter efforts of old (Carpenter was actually involved for a while). The aforementioned caveats aside, this is a very solid effort. I don’t believe that it’s up there with the best the format has to offer, but when you consider what Rodriguez and Tarantino set out to do with their respective projects, creating a more bombastic and aggressive track would have been contradictory.
Like the video the soundtrack has a bit of a split personality. The first act is almost exclusively front-oriented, with what little surround action there is being restricted to the patter of rain during a few scenes at the bar and the occasional musical cue. In fact the rears are used so sparingly you could be forgiven for thinking that you're listening to a stereo mix at times (albeit with some nice panning). During this segment dialogue is also a little hard to discern, but after a while I came to the conclusion that it was an intentional move on Tarantino's part. The stand out element for me was the bass, which roars with guttural ferocity every time Stuntman Mike revs his muscle car's engine.
The second act of the film opens up the soundstage considerably, with greater integration of all five channels and—gasp—even some discrete sound effects. Dialogue is also easier to pick out in this segment, while bass remains as throaty as ever. However, what really impressed me was the quality of the soundtrack. Unlike Rodriguez's Carpenter-esque score for Planet Terror, Tarantino has opted for his usual blend of quirky and downright catchy songs. It is their presence that helps to elevate the track from average to great, and I defy anyone to be able to get April March's 'Chick Habit' out of their head.
Like the video, the fake trailers’ audio is comparable to the main features in so much as it’s mainly front-centred and intentionally degraded. There’s not a lot else to say really…
The first disc of the set contains audio bonus material for Planet Terror and Thanksgiving.
Audio Commentary by Robert Rodriguez: I own a couple of Rodriguez DVDs with commentary tracks ( From Dusk 'Till Dawn and Sin City) and he usually has some pretty interesting things to say. This track is no exception, with the director discussing the film’s origins (and Grindhouse in general), the differences between the theatrical and home versions of the film, shooting on a shoestring budget and the usual technical issues. It’s not his best track (probably because he’s not bouncing off of Tarantino), but it’s still worth checking out. It’s also worth noting that it’s slightly truncated from the version on the single disc release due to the removal of some footage.
Audience Reaction Track: If you own the extended edition of Sin City you know what this is all about. Basically, it's just a track of people cheering along with the film and getting overexcited at the appearance of anyone vaguely famous. If anyone did this in my local cinema they'd get the cold hard stare down, so I have to assume that Americans are more tolerant of this sort of thing. However, if nothing else the track shows that there was an audience for the film.
Thanksgiving Trailer with Commentary (02:37 HD): Eli Roth and Jeff Rendell are on-hand to talk us through the trailer for their fake slasher movie, Thanksgiving. Among other things we learn that the trailer was shot in Prague at the tail-end of the Hostel: Part II shoot and how certain props were recycled from that film.
The second disc of this two-disc set includes almost all of the supplemental material from the individual Planet Terror and Death Proof releases (the scratch-free version of the former and the theatrical trailers are absent), along with some all-new film-specific content and a lot of trailer-related goodies. Let's work through it in order.
Robert Rodriguez’s 10-Minute Film School (11:50 HD): Rodriguez's now customary film school featurette actually packs a hell of a lot of info into its short running time (although it does cheat the ten minute mark by a bit). If you ever wanted to know how they replaced Rose McGowan's leg with a machine gun or created the artificial print damage, this is the place to come.
The Badass Babes of Planet Terror (11:49 SD): This featurette is all about, you guessed it, the lovely female stars of the film. I'll say one thing for Rodriguez—he knows how to pick 'em. Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton, Stacy 'Fergie' Furguson and the Avellan twins (Electra and, well, Electra) are all on hand to talk about their characters, along with Rodriguez and Tarantino. As an aside, I think it's quite telling how taken the director appears to be with Rose McGowan.
The Guys of Planet Terror (16:30 SD): I was a little disappointed to learn that this featurette was longer than the 'babes' one, but I guess there are more blokes in the film than women. As before, Rodriguez and Tarantino talk about the male cast members, who also show up to discuss their roles. Nothing against the fellas, but I was considerably more interested in the previous featurette.
Casting Rebel (05:38 SD): This is a short featurette that shows Rodriguez on-set with his real-life son, Rebel, who plays the part of Dakota Block's on-screen son, Tony. Although this is a bit of a vanity piece, it's clear Rodriguez has a lot of affection for his boy and it will be a cool memento for the two of them in years to come.
Sickos, Bullets and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror (13:16 SD): This featurette takes us behind the scenes to meet the stunt team who ensure that the actors stay safe and look good while performing in some of the action scenes. We're also introduced (albeit briefly) to some of the stuntmen and women who fill in for the actors. To be honest I'd have liked there to be slightly more face time with the stunt people, but I guess we can't have everything.
The Friend, the Doctor and the Real Estate Agent (06:40 SD): This is a short featurette that, once again, basically does what it says on the tin. Rodriguez's friend Tommy Nix plays a paramedic call Nixer, his doctor Felix Sabates plays, well, Dr. Felix, and his realtor Skip Reissig plays Skip, the owner of the club where Cherry dances. I wonder if he needs someone to fix computers and criticise Blu-rays?
Planet Terror Poster Gallery: This is a still gallery containing a bunch of theatrical posters and stills from the film. I've never been particularly bothered with this sort of feature, but the completists will be most pleased by its inclusion.
10 Minute Cooking School (08:30 SD): This is the first of the new features. In it, director Robert Rodriguez shows us how to cook perfect Texas barbecue. If you’ve seen any of the cooking features on his other DVDs and Blu-rays you’ll know what to expect here, although I think you probably need to be on a director’s salary to afford the set-up he’s using.
The Make Up Effects of Planet Terror (12:02 SD): In this featurette director Robert Rodriguez and effects guru Greg Nicotero discuss their love of zombie movies and their desire to create a genre piece. There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage explaining how the gruesome effects were created, including a detailed examination of how Quentin Tarantino’s ‘rapist’ character melts and vomits up his internal organs—lovely.
Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof (20:39 SD): This is one of the longest featurettes on the disc and deservedly so. It concentrates on the insane men and women who drove the cars in the film, pulling off all of the crazy stunts that are often accomplished with computers nowadays. Tarantino talks about the various stunt drivers, who include Chrissy Weathersby, Steve Davison, Tracy Dashnaw and the legendary Buddy Joe Hooker. It's impressive to watch these guys perform the incredible stunts at upwards of seventy miles per hour!
Quentin Tarantino's Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke (04:36 SD): This is a short love letter to Tarantino's long-time editor, Sally Menke. Again, it mostly features the director in talking head mode, discussing his working relationship with Menke and generally telling us how great she is. There's also an amusing bit at the end where he gets various members of the cast to say hi to her on film.
The Guys of Death Proof (08:14 SD): This is the companion piece to Finding Quentin's Gals and once again features Tarantino enthusing about Michael Parks, Eli Roth, Omar Doom, Michael Bacall and, err, himself. It wasn't as interesting as the girls featurette (for obvious reasons), but I liked it well enough.
Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike (09:32 SD): This featurette introduces us to the character of Stuntman Mike and includes interview footage with both Tarantino and Kurt Russell. They discuss topics such as the genesis of the character and the life experience that Russell was able to bring to the role.
Finding Quentin's Gals (21:13 SD): As you might expect, this featurette details the casting process for all of the major female parts. Tarantino and some of the girls are on hand to discuss the process, with much time spent on Vanessa Ferlito (he wrote the part for her), Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Uncut Version of 'Baby, It's You' Performed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (01:46 SD): This is just the full take of the actress singing 'Baby it's You', which proves that Winstead actually has a pretty decent voice. The odd thing is that it doesn’t appear in the version of Death Proof in this set, just in the extended version.
Introducing Zoë Bell (08:57 SD): This is a short featurette that introduces us to the stuntwoman turned actress, who first worked with Tarantino on Kill Bill (where she doubled Uma Thurman). Bell is an incredibly likeable Kiwi with an infectious personality and a lot of talent. The director is clearly very impressed with her work on the film, both as an actor and as a stunt performer.
Double Dare Trailer (02:34 SD): This is a trailer for a documentary about Zoë Bell and legendary stunt woman Jeannie Epper, who used to double Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman. Jeannie Epper's list of credits is astonishing, as is the fact that she still continues to work into her sixties.
Extended Music Cues: Extended versions of two musical cues by Guido & Maurizio de Angelis and Franco Micalizzi. From what I remember there were actually three cues included on the single disc release (the missing one is by Ennio Morricone).
Death Proof Poster Gallery: Again, this basically does what it says on the tin. I'm not a big fan of still galleries, but it's nice that they've been included all the same.
The Hot Rods of Deth Proof (11:46 SD): This is the first of the new Death Proof specific supplements. In it, Quentin Tarantino discusses the various cars used in the film and their movie relevance (such as the ‘ Vanishing Point’ car). It’s a good featurette for ‘gearheads’.
From Texas to Tennessee: The Production Design of Death Proof (08:01 SD): This short featurette concerns on the look of the film. The primary focus is the Texas Chilli Parlour, which is a real bar that Tarantino visited while he was working on the film, but the piece also touches on various other locations and bits of set decoration that were used throughout the film.
Extended Werewolf Women of the SS Trailer (04:59 HD): First up we have the longer version of Rob Zombie’s trailer, which is actually about the best looking thing on either disc. The full version isn’t as effective as the truncated trailer in the main feature, but it’s nice to have the additional footage anyway. Zombie also provides optional commentary.
The Making of Werewolf Women of the SS Trailer (08:48 SD): This featurette tells you all you could ever realistically want to know about the making of this particular faux trailer. It includes interview footage with Rob Zombie, his wife, Bill Moseley, Tom Towles, Michael Deak and Udo Kier among others.
Extended Don’t Trailer (01:35 HD): Next up we have the longer version of the British entry into Grindhouse, Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Keep your eyes peeled for Wright regulars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along with a host of other British stars. Wright also offers optional commentary.
Don’t Storyboards/Trailer Comparison (01:41 SD): This one doesn’t take much explaining—you can watch the trailer with accompanying storyboards to see how it compares to the original vision. Wright is once again on-hand to offer his thoughts by way of audio commentary.
The Making of Don’t Trailer (09:40 SD): This making of is considerably longer than the trailer itself and includes interview footage with Edgar Wright and most of the key cast and crew (including messrs Pegg and Frost). Don’t is probably my favourite of the fax trailers, so this made for very interesting viewing.
Don’t Storyboards Still Gallery: As I’ve said numerous times before I’m not a huge fan of still galleries, but it’s nice that they’re included for those with more interest than me.
Don’t Poster (05:54): This is a single, solitary shot of the poster for Don’t. Sounds boring, right? Well yes, it would be, if not for the fact that it’s accompanied by the trailer’s extended score (composed by none other than David Arnold).
The Making of Thanksgiving Trailer (06:27 SD): You’re probably getting the idea by now, right? Yes, Eli Roth and the cast and crew of Thanksgiving pop along to discuss their faux trailer segment. There’s plenty of on-set footage, including detailed special effects footage and shots of the gang goofing around and generally having a lot of fun.
What do you mean there’s more? Yes, as if all of that wasn’t enough the disc also includes three more features, each loosely connected with Grindhouse.
New York Times Talk (01:04:36 SD): Lynn Hirschberg moderates this piece in which Tarantino and Rodriguez talk about Grindhouse. As you’d expect from anything featuring Tarantino there’s plenty of chatter, most of it interesting and entertaining (Tarantino is always a mine of information). Rodriguez is more reserved, but no less informative. This is a great piece.
Comic-Con 2006 (23:35 SD): This featurette is shorter and slightly less civilised than the preceding one, but it’s no less entertaining. Tarantino and Rodriguez meet their core audience (comic book/movie geeks), bringing some of the actors along for the ride. They also field questions from the audience.
Hobo with a Shotgun (02:00 SD): This is the winner of the official Grindhouse trailer competition. It’s obviously even lower budget than the ‘real’ fake trailers and the acting isn’t as good, but it’s pretty effective. Staggeringly this is even being made into a full-length picture starring Rutger Hauer…
Hard-core fans will no doubt be delighted to have both films on one disc with the fake trailers intact, but I fear casual viewers who’ve already forked out for the single disc releases will be less forgiving. Okay, so you get the trailers, but you miss out on a considerable amount of footage from the expanded versions. This might not be a big deal if you only ever saw the film theatrically, but if like me your first exposure to the films was on Blu-ray you could feel a little short-changed. The lack of lossless audio is also a concern, although I admit that the Dolby Digital track still offers a pretty solid experience. I also concede that the sheer volume of bonus material goes a very long way towards compensating for some of the aforementioned shortcomings.
As an HMV exclusive title this package retails for around seventeen pounds, which is comparable to the current combined cost of the earlier single disc releases (say roughly eighteen pounds). At the end of the day it comes down to a choice between owning Tarantino and Rodriguez’s original double feature with additional bonus material, or expanded—and in my opinion superior—versions of the films with fewer extras and lossless audio. That’s a choice you’ll have to make for yourself. Well that or you could buy both…
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 18th October 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English HoH
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Audience Reaction Track, Featurettes, Poster Galleries, Featurettes, Trailers, Extended Music Cues
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Stacy Ferguson, Tom Savini, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Kurt Russell, Zoë Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 191 minutes
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